Local Students Share In World Cultures With Summer SAIL Program

Jul 26, 2018

Credit (Alec Cowan/KLCC)

Local high school and middle school students gathered at the University of Oregon for an eye-opening world experience this week. 

Start out with eight counts stepping in a wide circle.

Then reach down low and step forward while clapping.

Make sure to stomp with energy while moving forward. One, two, three and four.

"It’s a cultural dance from Ghana. Yeah. It’s really fun. It uses like different things that I’ve seen in normal dance. And in the dance you can also be yourself. Yeah."

These are students from a class teaching the kpolongo style of dance, a traditional style from Ghana. It’s part of this year’s Summer Academy to Inspire Academic Learning program, called SAIL for short. For the kids whirling on the studio floor, it’s an opportunity to learn more about a diverse world.

"[Do you know much about Ghana?] No. Uhhhh. I studied it a little bit. Yeah I studied it a little bit."

SAIL is a summer program for students who come from first generation and underrepresented backgrounds. It’s hosted at the U of O and runs on the energy from hundreds of volunteers. It helps local middle and high school students imagine what college could be like.

Executive Director Lara Fernandez:

"I got involved with this program years ago because I always had a passion for teenagers and working with youth thatare in that exploratory stage in their life."

The types of classes offered range from dance classes like this to learning German and Scandinavian. Science classes include looking at actual cadavers. Fernandez says the program has changed over the almost ten years she’s been here.

"Oh my goodness. When I started with this program I worked 15 hours a week, with I think about 30 some students, and this summer we’re up to almost 500 students that we serve."

The program has found success not just in the enthusiasm kids bring to their classes, but through tangible numbers as well. Fernandez says last year 97 of their 98 high school seniors went on to graduate and enroll in college.

"I don’t’ know that I can really narrow down to a success story. Every summer there are hundreds of success stories. So that’s probably what I would really say keeps me going with this program, is that every year we have such an incredible impact on students."

Students attend the program for one week, although different programs run for several weeks throughout the summer. For those attending this year, it won’t be hard to keep dancing to the beat of the same drum.

"This is my first year but I know I’m going to come back. Yeah same. I know I’m doing the same thing."

Copyright 2018, KLCC.